Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our first few days in Phuket

Big Buddha on top of hill.
After finishing the officialdom dance and being properly cleared in, we spent our first full day in Phuket sharing a rental car with Bill & Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA. That is when we learned that Phuket is much larger, more heavily populated and more built up than we had imagined. The population of this island is around 660,000. Boats arrive and clear in at Ao Chalong Bay on the southeastern tip of the island.  Visible on the hillside nearby is a large Buddha.  We have seen enough Buddhas and are not likely to drive up there.

Ao Chalong is a huge bay, much of it shoal or too shallow for keel boats. The large section of the bay adjacent to the town of Ao Chalong is filled with moorings so we anchored well away from shore. It was quite a long dinghy ride to shore. Dinghies can be tied up at the very long and very high pier, but that is really a long walk to shore. Plus there is the 3 meter tide to consider when tying off a dinghy to a pier that does not float. Tie it too short during high tide and it will be dangling in the air later. Tie it too short during low tide and it will be perpendicular in the water later. A hassle that is easily avoided by instead landing on the beach and dragging the dinghy up the beach. There is a nice sturdy fence along the sidewalk to tie off the dinghy and lock a cable for security.

On the island of Phuket boaters can find just about anything their little hearts desire. We have not seen so many marine related shops and services since New Zealand. In fact, I think there is more here than in NZ. And supermarkets are far better stocked here than anywhere in Malaysia. The prices are higher, but not exorbitant by any means. We will rent a car just before leaving for India and stock up again. In the Carrefour we found the French Bolognese pasta sauce that we like so much. Haven't seen that brand since the island of Guadaloupe in the French West Indies of the Caribbean.

The best stop of the day was Rolly Tasker Sails. What an enormous sail loft!!! We have never seen a sail loft so huge. Rolly Tasker specializes in sailmaking, masts & rigging, rope making, marine hardware and general chandlery. The assortment of stainless steel gidgets and gadgets is amazing. What a delight to see so much of things we have missed for so long! We didn't need anything right now since we had just returned from the visit back to the States. Had we known about Rolly Tasker and what awaited us in Phuket then we would have delayed purchasing things until we arrived here.

Forget what I wrote earlier about buying courtesy flags in Langkawi. Rolly Tasker makes very heavy-duty courtesy flags out of sailcloth. These flags are larger and will last just about forever. These are much higher quality than what is sold in Langkawi. And Rolly Tasker charges only 300 baht per flag -- less than $10 USD. What a bargain!! We already have all the flags we should need all the way through the Red Sea and Mediterranean to Morocco.  But we bought another flag for France since we have gone through 3 French flags over the past 4 1/2 years.  Hopefully this one will last a long time.  And we bought a flag for Israel.  We have no plans to visit Israel, but people keep telling us that we simply must go there.  So now we have a flag in case someone convinces us that we really should visit this trouble-ridden country.

Bill and I had recently talked about wanting to have our mizzen asymmetrical sail (Amel calls this a mizzen ballooner) installed into a sock like our fore asymmetrical sail.  We think having it inside a sock would make hoisting and dousing this sail much simpler.  The easier it is, the more likely we will use the sail more frequently.  I really love the mizzen asymmetrical but we rarely fly it because it is such a hassle to fold it back up for storage.  A sock will simply both usage and storage.  Rolly Tasker to the rescue.  We talked to the men in charge and made arrangements for them to pick up this sail once we were berthed at Royal Phuket Marina.  Later we decided it would be a good idea to have all our sails checked out.  After all, the Red Sea is supposed to be the hardest weather we should encounter on the entire circumnavigation.  Best to have sails in perfect condition.

Tuesday we met with folks from another 2 boats who have similar ideas, similar speed boats and similar schedules for transiting the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden (Somali pirate territory).   I don't want to post anything specific on any website regarding our passage plans for this dangerous area.  But it looks like we might have the makings of a small group of like-minded individuals who can travel somewhat loosely together.  Participating in a tight-formation convoy of 25 boats and sailing right along the Yemeni coast does not appeal to any of us.  Neither does sailing alone.  Hopefully, our little group will work out.

Tuesday was also my 62nd birthday.  Guess I should file the application and get those little monthly social security checks started.

Anchored all alone, our private beach on Ko Rang Yai
Wednesday we dropped off our sun shade awning for a zipper repair.  Couldn't believe it when they called and it was ready to be picked up first thing the next day.  As soon as we picked up the repaired shade awning, we weighed anchor and motored northward up the eastern side of Phuket to anchor behind the small island of Ko Rang Yai.  BTW, in Thailand the work "Ko" means island, just like the word "Pulau" means island in Malaysia or Indonesia.  Ko Rang Yai is a convenient spot to anchor before entering either Royal Phuket Marina or the Boat Lagoon Marina.  The entrance to these 2 marinas dries to mud during low tide, and is only navigable during high tide.  So all egress happens during the 1 hour of daylight high tide each day.  We were staging at Ko Rang Yai Thursday night so that we would be ready at high tide on Friday to enter the marina.

Leave concrete posts close to port upon entry
At 11:30 Friday morning we weighed anchor and called the marina.  High tide was noon to 13:00 this particular day.  The pilot was to meet us at 12:05 at the entrance waypoint.  At precisely 12:05 he met us at the assigned spot and jumped aboard.  The pilot took the helm and drove us to the marina entrance.  There are unlighted tall concrete posts marking the long twisting entrance channel.  This is definitely not a place to enter after dark.  I was nervously watching the depth gauge.  Most of the channel was .3 meters depth beneath our 2.1 meter keel; but once the pilot had to move ever-so-slightly to the right to pas an outbound boat and the depth dropped to 0 meters beneath our keel.  I switched the gauge to feet and watched it drop from 3 to 1 to 0.  But we were still moving forward at 4 knots.  The gauge then began to register .8 feet.   That meant there was only about 7 inches of water beneath our boat!!!!  And I get nervous when it is anything less than 20 feet!  What a relief when the gauge quickly began to register higher numbers and we were soon back to .6 meters.  I really do not like such shallow water.

Leave concrete posts to port upon entry to marina
We arrived without incident and docked easily.  The pilot jumped off and went on his way.  We were met at the slip by 3 men to tie off our dock lines, plus a woman holding a tray with chilled fragrant ice-cold face cloths.  She handed us a welcome packet and asked us to visit the marina office at our leisure to register.  This was by far the nicest welcome we have ever received at any marina.  The day was so hot and humid that those ice-cold face cloths were like heaven.

Later we dropped the genoa, mainsail and mizzen.  Got them all flaked and rolled into their sail bags.  Then dug the mizzen asymmetrical and the fore ballooner out of the forward deck sail locker.  We stacked all 5 sail bags on the finger pier beside our boat and covered all with our dinghy cover in an effort to keep them as dry as possible.  It was a very hot and humid afternoon and this activity wore us out.  We were really appreciating being in a marina with air-conditioning to cool off afterward.

The first thing this morning Bill removed the lower line on our life rail.  There is a vinyl coated lifeline beneath the stainless life rail.  There are several nicks in the vinyl coating and Bill wants it all replaced.  We figure it must be cheaper here in Thailand than it will be anywhere in the Med or the Caribbean, so now is the time to do it.  Around noon the truck for Rolly Tasker arrived and picked up the 5 sails and the vinyl coated lifeline.  They will install a sock on the mizzen asymmetrical and inspect and repair anything found on the other 4 sails.  We are so thankful to Bill & Amy for bringing us to this wonderful sail loft.

It is rainy, hot and humid.  Royal Phuket Marina is pretty isolated.  So we will be spending a lot of time sitting inside the boat for at least the next 10 days.  To do anything from here will require renting a car.

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